Here Comes the Payoff

Deters at the Army Ten-Miler. Photo: Cheryl Young
Deters at the Army Ten-Miler. Photo: Cheryl Young

With two weeks to go before this Philadelphia Marathon, Matt Deters’ training started to pay off in a race.

He set a personal best at the Veterans Day 10k, running 32:06 on a cool, windy day to finish fourth.

“This cycle is so weird, the training is going so well but the racing (was) terrible,” Matt Deters said of his preparations for the Nov. 22 Philadelphia race.

Coming off of a spring racing season where he was on pace to PR at the truncated Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, and did achieve a PR in a performance he felt great about at the Shamrock Half Marathon, Deters has been following a similar training regimen this fall, and had reason to expect similar racing results.  But running doesn’t always reward the workhorses.  Deters’ season had shown that through October.

At the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon, he turned in a 1:12:10 performance, two-to-four minutes slower than he had reason to hope for.  Hampered by a humid day and significant wind, “I let the lead pack go after about three miles, that was a mistake because I was by myself,” he said.

With no defense against the wind, he failed to recreate his Shamrock effort, a 1:09:45 that boosted his confidence.  He conceded it wasn’t a great day for anyone, and that the rest of his team was slowed by the conditions as well.

At the Army Ten-Miler, he ended up with a 55:01, marred the last two miles by side stitches he thinks were brought on by the overly sugary Shot Blocks he consumed before the race.

Racing didn’t entirely line up for Deters this fall, but training continued to be a source of encouragement. He’s followed almost exactly the same training cycle as he did before his effort last spring in the Glass City Marathon.  In that race he was well on pace to achieving his goal of a sub 2:30 marathon, until a race staffer directed him the wrong way at mile 22.  More than a mile later, he realized he was off course and didn’t finish.

As far as training goes this time around, he’s happy to be where he is, and also ready for race day.  Earlier in the season, he was eager to start training, but his coached counseled patience.  Deters is grateful. “Fourteen weeks is enough,” he said. “Once you hit that 12 week mark, you’re just done.”

Deters’ coach, George Buckheit, designed the program that Deters and his teammates are using.  It revolves around progression and pickup runs, with marathon pace efforts during each long run. “I’m a big believer of training at marathon pace every weekend,” Buckheit said.

Deters feels the effects of the training, and has surprised himself by reaching splits in the 5:20 range in many of his long training runs this cycle.  It makes him think that he has a shot not just at his sub-2:30 goal, but possible even a 2:25-2:26 on race day.

“The long run really is the most important thing.  I prefer the pickup runs, I don’t like running over 16 or 18 miles,” he said. “The reason I get confidence from the long runs is that you get tired and then have to run the last 7 at marathon pace, and when you’re done your legs are pretty shot.  When I first started running pickups and I saw my watch beep 5:20 six or seven weeks into the schedule – that really helps.”

Deters has been logging 100-mile weeks, and has had consistently high-quality long training runs.  He’s tired and hungry often, which lets him know that his body is being worked to capacity.  “You should be tired just about every day when you’re in the meat of your program – there’s a nine week stretch where you should be pretty tired most of the time,” Buckheit said.

Deters’ race day plan is to practice patience.  He’s been talking to training partner Greg Mariano, and Deters thinks, as hard as it will be, he’ll be best served by starting out at a 5:40 pace, then pick it up around 10 miles, depending on how he’s feeling.  He knows it’s going to be hard to stay back earlier on and believe he’ll be able to go fast at the end, but he thinks this strategy will be his best chance to average a 5:30-5:35 pace overall.

He’s finally found a nutrition solution that works. The natural gel lacks the extra sugar he thinks has contributed to his side stitches, and it will be on the course at Philly.  He’s relieved not to have to be figuring out what to eat at this stage of the game.  The only thing remaining is the taper.  Deters prefers what he calls a “fall of the cliff” taper, an abrupt drop off in mileage in the two weeks leading up to the race.  He’ll stop doing doubles, and run about 40 percent of his usual weekly mileage.

“All the hard work is done now, the hay is in the barn,” Deters said.  Though he has a positive outlook going into Philly, he has had his ups and downs this season, especially the less that ideal races.  “You train and run so hard, and after you’ve had so many bad races it almost callouses you,” Deters said.  But, he continued, “you keep at it – and each of those times is a learning opportunity.  After a few long runs and training efforts, you think, I could have had a better diet, or something,” Deters said.  The bad experiences are what you make of them.

“It’s like, you work really hard and get out in the real world and it keeps putting you down. It’s just patience and believing in yourself,” he said.

Deters is unlikely to face his meteorological nemeses of heat and humidity in Philly. He’ll most likely get the cold day he’s looking for, and hopefully the dry one.  With the size of the race, he’s also probably going to be able to follow the course without detours.  He’s trusting in his training, and not letting the disappointment of his other races this fall stand in the way of his eyes on the prize attitude towards Philly.  Maybe hard work and fortuitous circumstances will line up and cut the hard-working kid from Ohio a break.



Joe Did It!

Photo: Dustin Whitlow/ D.Whit Photography
Photo: Dustin Whitlow/ D.Whit Photography

Joe Divel took the enthusiasm that guided his training with him on marathon day.

“We tell the first timers, just enjoy it, it’s your first time,” said First Time Marathoner Coach Conroy Zien.  The goal of the group’s six month training process is to gradually build up runners to marathon mileage, and give them the resources and support to get to the start line healthy.  Zien, a veteran marathoner, and the other pace coaches, are personally invested in each runner getting the opportunity to experience the elation of completing a marathon.  The plan paid off for Joe Divel, and many other FTM members at this year’s Marine Corps Marathon.

Divel can remember the cold morning last spring when he showed up to an elementary school gym for the FTM orientation.  He approached the new challenge with trepidation. “I was scared.  Am I too old, am I going to fail, am I going to fit in,” Divel said.

Divel found in that group not only a love of running but a camaraderie in their shared pursuit of a common goal that has been a source of wonder and inspiration to him since the beginning.

Fitting that the first meeting took place in a school.  Divel was a student of running from the very start.  Incorporating the recommendations of his coaches as well as his fellow runners, Divel focused on training to finish – maintaining a steady, comfortable pace, paying attention to his stride and posture, staying hydrated and nourished, and sticking faithfully to the training plan.

The enthusiasm Divel feels for his group flows both ways.  Milling around the hospitality room at the Holiday Inn in Rosslyn after the race, the FTM coaches were as excited as the runners were about their accomplishments. “To see them finish, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Audrey Fincher, FTM co-director.

Divel’s favorite part of the marathon was the Blue Mile on Hains Point.  As the crowd ran by the flags and names and pictures of fallen soldiers, “Everyone got quiet. It was an honor to run it.”  He was overwhelmed by the crowds all over the course, “I never through so many people would come out and cheer us on.  There were crazy signs, and bluegrass bands, costumes – everything was so moving,” Divel said.

Another point that stuck out in his mind was the stretch through Crystal City.  His niece had come out to cheer him on.  He saw her at mile 22, right around the time Divel realized he was actually going to complete the marathon.  He gave her a hug and said, “I’m gonna finish this thing!” She sent Divel off with a “damn right you are!” Being so close to his goal gave him an extra burst of energy for the remaining miles.

The final challenge was at the end.  “At mile 24.5 it got really tough.  But I told myself, you got up at four a.m. so many times, you showed up at the track so many times, you made all those Sundays, and dang it if I didn’t go up the hill,” Divel said.

He crossed the finish line hands held aloft with his pace group coaches Serey and Sophal Kiman.  Then he moved through the chute to receive his medal from a Marine Lieutenant.  “The marine shook my hand and said congratulations, I was really emotional, I said no, thank you.  That was my diploma,” Divel said.

At the banquet held the day after completing the Marine Corps Marathon, Divel brought his wife along to meet the people who have become not just training partners but lifelong friends. She, like Divel, was struck with how genuinely nice the crowd is.

Divel plans to keep up with running over the winter, meeting with members of his running group until the formal program starts back up in the spring.  He told his teammates “you guys are my friends for life now, this isn’t a bond that breaks at the end of the marathon,” Divel said.

When asked what he will share with the next crop of marathon newbies, Divel pauses for just a moment and rattles off the following:

“Listen to the coaches ; soak up as much as you can from fellow runners; don’t wear cotton t-shirts; don’t be afraid to ask questions, no matter how stupid you think they might be; learn from mistakes, yours and others; and finally: pace yourself.”

Divel’s joy after completing his marathon was effusive, but it was in keeping with his attitude toward running, training, and being a part of the close-knit community of runners in his FTM group.  He was excited about training runs, about track workouts, about stride mechanics.  He carried the same unfalteringly positive perspective that guided his training to the start line of the Marine Corps Marathon, and had a great day.  Though Divel is the kind of person it’s difficult to imagine having a bad day.

The trek to the finish line of the Marine Corps Marathon was not Divel’s first long road.  He lost over 70 pounds starting in 2014 through a daily commitment to changing his eating habits and adding exercise.  He had an eye on the goal of running a marathon even then, and looked at losing the weight as a first step towards the marathon.

Finally completing his first marathon (and there will be more, he knows) was more than a fitness goal, or a box to check off.  All those early mornings, all those miles, the commitment and the sacrifice it took and the relationships that were built out on the trail changed more than the muscles in his legs.  It expanded what he considers himself capable of.

“The reward isn’t just the marathon.  It’s an inner courage and sense of accomplishment that I never thought I had before.  It makes me think, what other exciting things are out there that I didn’t tackle before because I thought it was out of my reach?” Divel said.

Bailey Trevisan and Amelia McKeithen before the Marine Corps Marathon.
Bailey Trevisan and Amelia McKeithen before the Marine Corps Marathon.

Amelia McKeithen didn’t go in for a rigid training plan that told her what days to run, when to cross-train, or what to eat.  She knew back in March when she committed to running the Marine Corps Marathon as a fundraiser for The Children’s Inn at NIH that a structure like that would cramp her style.

If one thing has defined McKeithen’s approach to marathon training, it’s been having fun throughout the process. “Fun” isn’t always the first term that the average person, or even the above average runner, equates with preparing to run 26.2 miles consecutively. But McKeithen, a lifelong athlete, is always pushing her limits, and finding new ways to challenge herself physically and mentally. A competitive intensity is right beneath the surface with McKeithen, easily obscured by her easy smile and self-deprecating wit.

While her virtual training partner jokingly called McKeithen’s laid back, run when she feels like it approach #theameliaplan, McKeithen logged a lot of miles in preparation for Sunday’s Marine Corps Marathon.  The first-time marathoner ran two twenty milers in the months leading up to the race.  In both, she kept close to a steady 9:00 minute mile pace.  During and after each long run, her legs felt great.

In addition to the twenty milers and other long runs, McKeithen ran regularly during the week and kept up a variety of cross-training activities until tweaking her knee a few months before the race.  She set aside cross training and alternated run days and rest days to stay healthy.

McKeithen had a few goals for the Marine Corps Marathon.  She wanted to raise $1,500 for The Children’s Inn at NIH, break 4:00 hours, beat all the guys in her office who had run the race in prior years, and feel good all the way to the finish.

She raised the money for The Children’s Inn at NIH.  Her contribution will pay for a week’s worth of services for a family at The Inn, which provides completely free housing, therapeutic and recreational activities, and education to the families of seriously ill children receiving treatment at NIH.

One of the highlights of her race weekend was going to The Children’s Inn for dinner the night before her marathon. “We got a tour of the facility. They do an amazing job of providing a whole space that lets families live like families to the extent that they can with all they have to go through,” McKeithen said.

“We’re so proud of Amelia,” wrote Lauren Stabert, Assistant Director of Corporate Giving and Special Events at The Children’s Inn, noting that Marine Corps Marathon runners overall raised more than $57,000 for the Inn’s operations.  “And all of that doesn’t even cover the awareness that our runners raised by reaching out to their contacts to tell them about our work and by proudly wearing our shirts on the course that day,” Stabert said.

Some of McKeithen’s other goals were tougher to come by. Race day presented a few challenges to her plan of feeling good throughout her marathon effort.  She gave herself ample time to get to the start of the race, but still found herself caught in a long security line prior to the start.  She was still waiting to get through security and bag check when the gun went off and wasn’t able to get to the start line until a half hour after the race began.

“It was really stressful, really confusing, no one was telling us what was happening.  It was an hour and half of logistical induced anxiety, in the predawn rain, just a bunch of people trapped without access to porta-potties,” McKeithen said.

The Marine Corps Marathon shared on its official Facebook page and with Runner’s World Magazine that a delay on the blue line combined with electronic metal detector wands malfunctioning in the rain held up runners at one of the security checkpoints. McKeithen was one of those who experienced a lengthy delay.

Once she got crossed the start line, McKeithen was at the back of the pack, behind others caught in the same line as her as well as all the slower pace groups. Trying to navigate around the slow and dense crowd taxed McKeithen’s legs as she struggled to find the smooth cadence she usually enjoys while running. “I had to run with the crowd instead of at a pace that I was comfortable with for my energy level,” McKeithen said.  She wasn’t able to get into the zone.  “I only had four miles of good running,” McKeithen said, estimating that her best miles were around the 15-18 mile marks.

McKeithen logged a 4:00:34, and stresses that just missing the four hour mark wasn’t a source of frustration as much as not being able to run at her rhythm. “It’s not that I was upset that I didn’t meet my goal of four hours, but I didn’t feel like it was a good run for me.  It was not my best,” McKeithen said.

Even though she’d had strong 20 mile efforts in preparation for the race, the stress of running for a prolonged time with a truncated stride and the extra effort required to navigate around other runners had an impact on her legs.

“During the race, my legs went out before 20 miles.  The only thing that kept me from walking, even though I felt like I was going that slow, was to tell myself to just keep moving across the pavement in a running like fashion,” McKeithen said.

As far as McKeithen’s goal of beating the guys in her office who had run the race in prior years, she did that. “I beat all of them,” McKeithen said.  For now.  A few colleagues have already vowed to gun for her record in next year.

As far as McKeithen’s next race?  Her and the girls are looking at a half marathon in wine country with a much smaller field of runners.  True to McKeithen’s style, it sounds like a lot of fun.


A Marathon Minus 37 Minutes

Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D. Whit Photography
Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D. Whit Photography

Read more about Will Etti here, here, here and here.

Will Etti completed the Marine Corps Marathon in 5 hours and 14 minutes, a 37 minute PR over last year’s effort.  In last year’s Marine Corps Marathon effort, Etti hobbled through cramping through the later stages of the race, an experience that has been at the forefront of his mind since he began training for this year’s redemption six months ago.

Etti takes a systematic approach to running, as well as life, and his analysis of last year’s performance led him to a few conclusions.  First, he decided that he had gone out too fast at the beginning of the race.  The combination of Etti’s race day excitement and the former track stand-out’s propensity to push himself to the limit resulted in a disappointing performance in his first marathon.  Second, he thought that his hydration and nutrition had been insufficient, and that was a contributing factor as well.

For the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon, Etti spent his training runs planning how to have a different, more successful race experience.  He experimented with a nutrition and hydration regimen that included coconut water and energy gels.  He dropped back from the 9:40 pace group to the 11:30 group in his marathon training group in an effort to avoid injury and make sure that he was able to set a pace he could sustain for 26.2 miles.

Etti crafted a race day plan to get him to his goal of a sub-five hour marathon: stay healthy, put in the miles, stay hydrated, incorporate strength and flexibility training, and stick with the pace group.  He was confident that locating the Cliff Bar pace group and sticking with it would bring him to the finish line.  He had incorporated tempo runs into his training and felt like he could maintain a race-day pace in the 10:50-10:57 range.

But when Will arrived at the start line and began Sunday’s race, which happened to coincide with the runner’s 39th birthday, he encountered a challenge he had not anticipated which threw a wrench into his plan for the day. The pacers were running faster than he was comfortable with. Etti had put a great deal of confidence on the pace group being his guide, when their pace didn’t match up to what he expected, it challenged whole race day perspective.

Though his overall splits to the 30k mark were within the range he had trained for, Etti didn’t get into a groove.  He was challenged, once again, with the severe leg cramps that had held him back in the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon.  Missing both his time goal and his “feel good” goal was a let down, but Etti chose to look at the race overall as a positive experience.

“I heard from a fellow runner that ‘you learn something new from each marathon’” Etti said, and he chalks the experience up to another lesson learned.  Looking back, he wishes he had left the pace group and maintained his own pace instead of trying to stay with a tempo that wasn’t working for him.  “Similar to last year, I started cramping,” Etti said.  The last 8.2 miles were a challenge to just continue forward. I told myself to “just keep moving,” Etti said.  At one point, he counted his steps, trying to determine how many paces he could run before the pain became unbearable.  It was 37.  So he ran as far as he could, walked, then ran again until he finally crossed the finish line.

Etti’s 5:14 performance on his 39th birthday still far outstrips his 5:51 effort at his inaugural marathon last year.  And the unflagging positivity which has marked Etti’s outlook on running and life was in full effect after Sunday’s race.  He drew inspiration from the other runners on the course.  He thought of the service men and women remembered on mile twelve of the course, the ‘wear blue mile’ in which members of the military who lost their lives in combat are honored.

“It helped me take it into perspective.  Not everybody gets to run.  We’re very fortunate,” he said.  Though his performance was not exactly what he’d hoped, Etti takes it all in stride.  While he acknowledges that his plan didn’t go perfectly and definitely wishes he hadn’t hobbled through eight miles of painful cramping, Etti’s post-race view was still overwhelmingly positive.  His contagious smile was on full display, and he focused on the improvement from last year to this year, “I have a 37 minute PR,” Etti said.

Focusing on the positive has been the cornerstone of Etti’s training.  He uses running to inform his perspective on his life, calling it “the mental marathon.” But his persistence and dogged pursuit of improvement when it comes to running is strongly tied in to his life experience.  Leaving behind the crime he witnessed in his neighborhood growing up to pursue college, graduate school, and his doctorate, while building a career and raising a family, Etti chose the road he wanted, not the one he was presented.

Later, after a drunk driver nearly took his life, and Etti had to learn how to walk again, he chose to use his setback as an opportunity to set new goals, the marathon just one of them.  Hard work and gratitude for the opportunity it presents are a given in Etti’s life.  Though his early talents were on the track, it seems Etti has had the heart of a marathoner since long before he tackled 26.2.

While Etti drew inspiration this past Sunday from his fellow runners and the sacrifices of fallen heroes, he has often been the inspiration himself.  His teammates and coaches in First Time Marathoners have viewed Etti as an uplifting force, not only for his story, but for the way he carries himself and his approach to training, and will certainly benefit from his techniques when he returns to the group not just as a runner, but as a pace group coach this winter.


Joe Divel just can’t wait

Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D. Whit Photography
Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D. Whit Photography

Joe Divel can’t wait to run his first marathon.  With one final 20 mile run and just three weeks away from the Marine Corps Marathon, Divel is riding a high of anticipation.  At a recent event with the First Time Marathoners (FTM) that opened with a group run, Joe got a taste of the final hill leading up to the Iwo Jima memorial.  The group’s coaches lined the road leading to where the finish line will be set up to give runners like Joe just a taste of what the thrill of race day will be like.

“As we came up the street, all the coaches were there cheering us on and I thought – 100% I am ready for the Marine Corps Marathon,” Divel said.  He’s so primed with anticipation he’s sure that he won’t be able to sleep the night before.

“Joe’s going to go from being a runner to being a marathoner in 3 short weeks, and I’m really excited for him,” said Conroy Zien, director of FTM.

Divel has been decidedly diligent in his approach to preparing for the marathon.  He’s absorbed the information given to him and incorporated it into his planning for race day.  He’s confident going into the taper that he’s laid the groundwork for a successful marathon.  He trusts the input of his coaches and the miles he’s put in.  From this point forward, he’s just aiming to get to the start line healthy.

Zien and the other coaches stress that the taper isn’t the time to make up for missed miles, try a new workout class, or radically change your diet.  It’s the time to maintain.  In terms of marathon performance, in the time frame of the taper “there’s almost nothing you can do to help it, but there are a lot of things you can do to hurt it.  The biggest challenge is to get through next few weeks without hurting yourself,” Zien said.

Divel will continue with his normal track workouts, and keep his mid-week runs to three to five miles at an easy pace, dialing back the distance each Sunday after his final 20 mile effort.  The group will meet for a 14 mile tune up covering parts of the Marine Corps Marathon course the week prior to the run.

As far as his plan for race day, Divel has been doing all of his training runs at a 12-minute mile pace, and has no plans to shoot for an audacious time goal in his first marathon.  He just wants to finish.

“I don’t have a time I want to do it in.  My goal is to finish the race – no matter what it’s going to be a PR for me.  My goal is to beat the bridge.  My goal is to finish the Marine Corps Marathon and to get that medal around my neck.  My goal is to finish my first my first marathon,” Divel said.

Divel continues to be careful about staying healthy.  Knee pain slowed him down for a few weeks during training.  Through proactive measures, including rest, PT, and stride adjustment, he wasn’t sidelined that long.  That setback allowed him to become more aware of his form, something he continues to pay attention to and tweak.

Recently, he attended a stride clinic, and took away a valuable observation.  “They told me ‘you’re hunching over and watching your feet.’ So now I try to center myself like I’m a pencil then lean a little bit forward.  I look way ahead at a point instead of my feet or the person in front of me,” Divel said.

“Joe did have pain and injury like symptoms, but he’s very committed to doing the proper thing.  No more pain in the knee is helping,” Zien said, confident that Joe will get himself to the start line in good shape.

Divel continues to be enamored with the camaraderie he’s found through being part of a club that trains together and it remains one of his favorite things about the sport of running.  “Instead of being out there alone, we’re all in this together – a great group, a great sport,” Divel said.

The FTM group gets shirts every year, and this year’s has the line: “the path to success is never travelled alone” accompanied by a raccoon saying, “I’m not alone, I’ve got my 300 friends with me.”  Divel certainly agrees.  Running by himself doesn’t hold the same appeal as his new crew.

Divel is already planning to continue with running and with FTM (the program is open to both brand new and seasoned marathoners), and is setting his eyes on what races he might want to do next. “The program starts up again in March and I can’t wait,” Divel said.

Most people who run a marathon fall into two categories.  The first checks the achievement off their bucket list and vows ‘never again.’  The second, before they even regain the use of their quads, starts planning for the next one.  Divel is among the latter.  He definitely has the bug.

“I’d like to do New York, I’d like to Chicago. Next year I really want to step up and contribute any way I can, as a volunteer, be a part of it more in any way I can,” Divel said.

With training coming to a close and hundreds of miles logged, Divel has little to do except stay healthy and enjoy the excitement leading up to the big day.

“Something I try and remind the runners – you only get to finish your first marathon once.  If you forget to enjoy the experience it’s something you can’t redo,” Zien said.

Divel is planning to make the most of the experience of his first marathon, much as he’s done throughout the training process. “Getting that medal put around my neck, I’m getting really emotional just thinking about it. It’s one of the biggest accomplishments in my life,” Divel said.



Amelia McKeithen is ready for the Marine Corps Marathon.  As she predicted herself early on in her training, she hasn’t followed a particular plan to prepare.  McKeithen likes to run when she feels like it instead of when the calendar says she has too, but still she’s managed to log an impressive amount of miles, even if she’s not keeping track.  She’s done two 20-milers, even though she skipped her final training run. “The training plan said I should run 20 miles on the weekend of the 3rd, but I’m a fair weather runner.  I’ll run if it’s cold out but not if it’s gross out,” McKeithen said. The combination of the wet weekend and a wedding to attend kept McKeithen from logging her final long run, but she thinks it will be ok.

She’s looking toward race day with a mixture of excitement, a touch of competitive spirit, and has started worrying about some of the details.  But she’s not letting any of her minor concerns stand in the way of having a good time.

Marathon training hasn’t stopped McKeithen from enjoying a full social life.  And she thinks that’s a good balance.  She planned to mark her first official weekend tapering by heading down to homecoming at her alma mater, UVA. She doesn’t think being pent up waiting for race day is going to do anything helpful for her performance.  She’s been running on and off every few days, trying to avoid wearing high heels, and otherwise just looking toward race day.

Her attitude towards the marathon is a direct contrast to many stereotypically Type A runners, many of whom spend months sequestering themselves on weekend evenings, micromanaging their training schedules, and obsessively logging their workouts.  Amelia isn’t sure exactly how much she’s run, overall.  But the average runner might not get a 20 mile run in too often if they waited for a day when they felt like doing it.  McKeithen has managed to keep the joy of running throughout the training cycle.

“I definitely don’t feel like my life has been taken over every day.  I think that’s something to keep in mind, I think some people don’t sign up for bigger races because they don’t have time, or maybe they think people have to get up at 5 every day.”  McKeithen wants people who think that they don’t have time for a marathon to know that it hasn’t cramped her style, or curbed her enjoyment of running. “I’m still having fun,” McKeithen said.

Even though McKeithen’s approach to marathon training has been marked by a somewhat remarkable  level of ease and levity, McKeithen is by no means immune to pre-race jitters and questions. “I haven’t looked at the race course, but the chatter is starting to stress me out.  I’ve heard there’s hilly portions,” McKeithen said. “I just don’t want my legs to freeze up.” The weather is another concern of hers, since she’s based her long runs on days she wanted to go running.  I pick my long runs on days that are nice to run a long run.” Her ideal weather is “60 and sunny with a slight breeze and 40% humidity,” but temperature isn’t her main concern.  “If it’s really cold I’m not worried.  Rain is the main thing, it’s just demoralizing and it’s not fun,” McKeithen said.  She knows she can’t do anything about the weather on race, day, but rain would cramp her style.

The other question in McKeithen’s mind is the change in her workout routine since she tweaked her knee in a trampoline accident.  The knee is no longer giving her any trouble, “it’s fine – it better be, I’ve been babying it for months now!” McKeithen said.  However, in the process of making sure she healed properly, McKeithen has given up her diverse and vigorous cross-training routine.  Not only does she miss the challenge and variety, “I’m worried that will have an effect on my fitness.  I’ve also been spending no time stretching, and some classes make you sort of do that,” McKeithen said. She doesn’t know what the combined loss of strength and flexibility training will do to her on race day.

Although she’s doing a first-timers typical worrying about the race course and her preparedness for the challenge if 26.2, Amelia’s also getting excited, and stoking her competitive fire.  A few of her co-workers have run the race before, and she’s been checking up their times.  Working in a male-dominated field, she’s keen to surpass the guys.

McKeithen has trained all she can, and she also done all the fundraising on behalf of The Children’s Inn at NIH that she can.  “Friends and family have given more than I could have ever expected, and I’m so grateful for that, now it’s my job to do the race,” McKeithen said.  She’s particularly looking forward to the opportunity to meet families from The Children’s Inn at the pre-race fundraising dinner the night before.  She and a friend will head up to the dinner honoring fundraisers to see hands-on the people that she’s been raising money to help.  That, and friends and family there to cheer her on, are two of the most exciting things about the upcoming challenge.

McKeithen doesn’t run with a watch, and doesn’t want the distraction of her phone for the race, so she plans to use the on-course clocks to make sure she doesn’t go out to fast and to help regulate her pace.  She’s still hoping for a sub-four hour race, but overall, “finishing and feel good are the two most important things to me,” McKeithan said.


A Minor Change of Plans

In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington is following several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. This is the fourth story about Will Etti, read the firstsecond and third.

Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D.Whit Photography
Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D.Whit Photography

Will Etti is ready to tackle the Marine Corps Marathon once again, and this time, he thinks he’s ready for it.  Since this year’s iconic DC race falls on Will Etti’s 39th birthday, he’s chosen it from the two options he was considering.

Etti was registered for both the Baltimore Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon, but he opted to defer Baltimore until next year.  Though he wants to run Baltimore in tribute to his lifelong Maryland residency, he’s looking for redemption in D.C. first.

“I’m using my experience from last year as a gauge for this year,” Etti said.  He’s planning to use the Cliff Bar pacing team to hit his time goal of a sub-5:00 marathon.  “Even if I feel like I can run faster, I’m going to stay with the pacer,” Etti said.

Last year, Etti trained for the Marine Corps Marathon, and made a lot of first timer mistakes.  He felt good, went out too fast, and got hit with cramping that dogged his last ten miles. What’s different about this year?  Everything.  He has trained differently, incorporated a strength and flexibility routine, and has been experimenting with fuel and hydration with each long run, making sure he knows what works best for him.

“I always think that you always learn from your previous marathon experiences. Will [Etti] being relatively new to marathoning is still learning,” said Conroy Zien, director the First Time Marathoners (FTM)program in which Etti participates.  A self-described nerd when it comes to running, Etti is constantly looking for ways to improve his performance and avoid previous pitfalls.  He takes a systematic approach towards incorporating new training elements and discarding ones that don’t serve him well.

“It seems like he’s found a formula that is going to work for him,” Zien said, noting that Will has practiced with different nutrition and hydration combinations throughout his training.

If Zien could give a list of 10 things for people to remember when they’re running a marathon, “the first five would be: don’t go out too fast,” Zien said.  Etti knows that played a big part in his last marathon effort.  The former track athlete knows how to push himself.  This time around, he’s worked on pulling himself back.  He dropped back to a slower pace group early on in training and feels good about it.

“I have really high hopes that he’s going to break five hours.  I think he’s focused enough to not fall victim to race day euphoria,” Zien said.

Etti’s track background helps him out a lot when it comes to speed work.  He is acquainted with the pain of pushing himself to the limit.  He encourages his teammates through track workouts, reminding them that this is what they’re going to feel like on race day.

“The track background is definitely there, you have muscle memory.  I know I can push, because I’m trained to push. I always remember when I was in high school, running the mile, and I was ready to move, and my coach kept yelling at me to be patient.  Then, in the third lap he was yelling at me to make your move, make your move.  So I still hear that,” Etti said.  He went on to say that the time to ratchet things up in the half marathon is at about mile 11.  For the marathon?  He doesn’t know…yet.

Etti certainly feels better prepared going into this year’s marathon.  He has been focused on building strength and flexibility with a cross training schedule that includes a day of yoga and a day of body pump.  He also does stretching and foam rolling every week in preparation for long runs.  He has not been dogged by the ITBS that caused him a painful half marathon last year.  He incorporated what he learned coming back from that to stay injury free this year.

“The PT made me much more self-aware of my form – when I get tired I tend to lean back, which is easier on the back, but tough on the pelvic area, so I remind myself,” Etti said.

He’s added tempo runs to his mid-week runs, and has already seen himself able to maintain a faster pace for longer periods of time.  He felt it pay off in his recent performance at the Parks Half Marathon.  Etti thinks that if he manages to hold himself back in the beginning and take in the right ratios of hydration, salt, and nutrition along the way, he’s going to be able to stick with the pace group and meet his goal of a sub five hour marathon.

“When something doesn’t go the way you expected to, if you come back a little angry, it can be a good thing. I think that’s the attitude Will took – he’s had a very constructive view of himself on what he did wrong last year and work on it,” Zien said.  Etti has channeled his desire to prove himself on the Marine Corps Marathon course into actionable steps throughout his training.

Redemption is a lifelong theme for Etti.  Raised in a rough neighborhood, Will’s path out started with running.  The discipline it gave him as well as the opportunity to see a world outside of his immediate area inspired him to pursue a different route than many of his peers.  After a serious car accident nearly paralyzed him, he decided to go for his goal of an advanced degree.  Now a PhD candidate nearing the completion of his coursework, Etti gives presentations at national conferences. Through it all, running remains Will’s path forward.  He uses his time running to order and reflect on his life.

Running the Marine Corps Marathon for Etti is a way to mark the progress he’s made, to honor the way his family, work, and academic life are manifesting positively.  It’s also a chance to look back and remember where he came from.  He is running the race as a celebration of his life now, and also as a commemoration of a life lost.  He’s dedicating his race to the memory of his sister, Sherri Etti, who, had she not passed in 1993 due to pregnancy labor complications would be celebrating her 45th birthday this year on Oct. 30.

After adding the Marine Corps marathon to his list of successes, Etti will be coaching with FTM’s 10:20 pace group this winter, sharing his upbeat attitude and his love of learning about his sport with others.




In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington will follow several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. Read more about Amelia McKeithen, who is running the Marine Corps Marathon, here.

Amelia McKeithen at the 2014 Rock 'n' Roll USA Half Marathon, Photo: MarathonFoto
Amelia McKeithen at the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon, Photo: MarathonFoto


Amelia McKeithen is quick to apologize that she doesn’t have anything fun to report since the last time she caught up with RunWashington.  But the first thing she admits to is having missed a long run due to a recent trampoline injury.  The offending apparatus was set up at the end of a float trip, and may not have been properly set up.

Her knee is fine, and she had recently been on a ten-mile run.

“My new job starts an hour before my old one, so I get to work out in the mornings and not feel too rushed.”  She has also been enjoying the cooler temperatures this summer, one of her main concerns was the D.C. heat.  “It’s been a really cool August,” she said, appreciatively.

She’s been doing long runs in the teens, including a 15-mile run starting from Georgetown recently where she was supposed to meet up with fellow Children’s Inn fundraisers, but rode her bike to the wrong boathouse in Georgetown.

“I kept looking but of course there were millions of training teams,” she said. “I was bummed about missing them, but I got a couple of extra miles in.”

For her overall training, McKeithen is running a few days a week and getting long runs in, but not adhering to any particular plan, or sticking solely to running.

“There are too many fun workouts to make them all running,” she said.  He current favorites are elevate interval fitness and fuse pilates ladder classes. “I feel like the other stuff is gonna help me,” she said, even guessing that her quick bounce back from her trampoline injury was due to her extensive cross training.

She’s also planning on starting on a hydration and fuel plan.  “I’ve just never taken water or fuel with me on a run before,” she said, adding that she’s ordered a hand held water bottle as well and has been trying energy chews.

She’s raising money for the Children’s Inn at N.I.H., and with her training comes that responsibility.

Any runner who’s been on either end of the fundraising conundrum knows it’s a slippery slope.  The causes are nearly always worthy, and like most causes, in need of funds, but how do you make sure to strike the balance of encouraging but not cajoling, raising awareness without repeating yourself?  Having tken the fundraising course for racing before, McKeithen has a few tricks up her sleeve, though she admits “It’s still hard to reach your peer group.”

She has found inventive ways.

“When my friend and I signed up back in March, we put together a bracket pool – a portion was for the winners and a portion went to the Children’s Inn – it was a fun little fundraiser,” she said.

McKeithenhas already surpassed the minimum $600 fundraising goal, and raised her goal to $1,500 goal, which she recently surpassed. Overall as of mid-September, Children’s Inn runners have raised $49,402 of their $55,000 goal.  So McKeithen seems to be well placed in company of overachievers.

That $1,500 McKeithen recently reached covers a week’s stay for a family at The Children’s Inn.  With over two months until race day, she’s sure to exceed that goal, and, if fundraising goes like her racing career until this point, she’ll most likely exceed her own expectations once again.  As long as she doesn’t get too distracted by trampolines.

Fern Stone, chief development and communications officer with The Children’s Inn, said that special events like race fundraising  bring in about 30 percent of the Children’s Inn’s revenue. The Inn is a privately-funded house on the National Institutes of Health campus that houses families of children undergoing treatment there.  Families pay nothing to stay at the facility, regardless of the duration of their stay, and receive services ranging from room and board to education and recreation opportunities.  “We support families in a very holistic manner,” Stone said.

The type of fundraising or “friend-raising” as Stone calls it, is a particularly useful way to both raise money and awareness for the cause, because runners tend to target their close friends, family, and colleagues, “it’s a way of spreading the word, saying ‘I’ve made a commitment that this is an organization that’s important to me.”

Special Events Coordinator Julie Ofrecio said “our runners have been a great outlet in raising awareness,” and that the Marine Corps Marathon and 10k fundraising has raised awareness for The Children’s Inn not just in the D.C. metro region, but right on the campus of NIH, a vast facility with many different areas, not all of which are aware of the work the Children’s Inn does.


Matt Deters’ Plan

In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington will follow several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. Matt Deters is training for the Philadelphia Marathon. Read more about him here and here.

Matt Deters. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D.Whit Photograpy
Matt Deters. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D.Whit Photograpy

After a summer colored by training ups and downs, including nagging pains, a lingering bug, and the ongoing battle with Washington weather, Matt Deters, who performs better at cooler temps and lower dew points, is really starting to feel like he’s found his footing.

Deters still doesn’t like the heat, but after a long summer, he’s functioning better in it.  He’s upping his game when it comes to hydration and continuing his commitment to injury prevention.  Now that he’s into the meat of marathon training, all the little things are coming together.

Much of Deters’ daily and weekly routines center around running, but he likes it that way. “It’s very rigid, each day is similar,” he said.” That’s actually important to marathon training.  Certain people like that.  I find that really centers my life.

When he thinks about it, running takes up about three hours out of his day, or 20-30 hours per week.  His training involves miles, miles, and more miles.  Last year, running 100 miles in a week was a goal for Deters, now he is doing that as part of his regular training regimen.

The training cycle Deters and his teammates are following is the same one he was doing going into last year’s Glass City Marathon – a great race that almost was.  In fact, after putting up an exceptional half marathon performance of 1:09:45 at Shamrock, Deters had two races cut short – Cherry Blossom, cut short after a motorcycle crash, and Glass City, which was cut off for Deters by poor course management.

Deters is hoping to set a ten mile PR at the Army Ten-Miler and is hoping to match his performance at last year’s Shamrock Half in the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon.  He has started looking at the qualification times for the U.S. Half Marathon Championships, which, at 1:08, is a jump, but not impossible by any means.

Deters’ training plan was devised by Capital Area Runners coach George Buckheit, whose coaching philosophy, honed over 35 years of coaching marathoners, involves doing many hard long run workouts reaching marathon pace.  To counterbalance, the plan also involves a lot of running slow in between hard workouts. In the two week training cycle Deters and his teammates follow, they get five hard workouts in.  These include the long progression runs reaching marathon pace as well as tempo and track runs. But the rest of the runs, the miles Deters puts in largely on his commute to work, are supposed to be done easy.  To Deters this means a per-mile pace of between 7:00 and 8:00.

His coach explains it this way – “a lot of marathoners think they have to be out there bashing it every day, but with five days hitting it hard, the rest of the time is easy recovery stuff,” Buckheit said.  Deters takes this to heart.  “A lot of guys who are very competitive ignore that.  He buys in.”

Buckheit’s training regimen involves running long runs with significant portions at marathon pace.  Progression runs serve multiple purposes – runners have to hold themselves back at the beginning, a challenge to any level and pace of runner, and a crucial skill for maximum velocity racers like Deters and his cohort.

Progression runs also teach runners what it feels like to be at high miles on tired legs at marathon pace.  Reaching peak marathon pace at mile 14 of a 21 mile run is a good way to get a feel of what’s coming on race day.  Deters has the advantage of having done a very similar training cycle before, and he can feel a slight edge this time around.  “My last run I averaged 5:38 for the last seven miles.  The same effort last spring was in the 5:40s.”

In addition to closely following the training model of his coach, Deters works on his form consistently.  He has gleaned some useful knowledge from the concepts of chi running.  “By keeping my pelvis rotated, my back aligned correctly, and my center of gravity where it needs to be, I feel like I can really enjoy my running.”  In addition to that, he strengthens his neuromuscular system by working high knees, butt kicks, and other drills to hone his form.

The unexciting things seem to be paying off well for Deters.  Running slow on his easy days. Turning in early on weeknights and getting eight hours of sleep.  Eating his vegetables.  Hydrating.  Foam rolling.  He’s reached the point in training where he’s “tired, eating all the time, running out of time to do things, but you still feel good,” Deters said.

His performance at the Navy-Air Force Half will be interesting to keep an eye on.  “I think he’s very ready.  If we get good weather he could be somewhere around 1:08ish,” Buckheit said.

In terms of Philly, Deters says his “B” goal is to break 2:30.  Since he doesn’t know what that pace feels like after mile 21, he thinks he can do it but hasn’t had the chance to yet.  “Deep down I feel like I could do 2:26.  But, I could also break my ankle or get hit by a truck.  You just gotta roll with the punches,” Deters said, leaving the door open, as his recent racing history has taught him, for any eventuality.

Buckheit hesitates to make a firm time prediction for Deters due to the unpredictability of the marathon, but think Deters performance will be “at a bare minimum, under 2:30, if everything aligns – 2:25,” Buckheit said.

When asked if the Glass City fiasco is likely to impact Deters’ performance, his coach echoed what teammates have said, “he took it better than I would’ve,” and went on to say that its only adding to his drive, “he’s right back where he was, training wise.  It didn’t piss him off, it made him hungrier,” Buckheit said.

With a half marathon and a ten miler coming up before his marathon performance just like last spring, Deters will have ample opportunity to gage his progress from last season, and then he’s got a typically cold, big city race with big city course marshals and markings to get him to the finish line.

Buckheit thinks Deters will be good to go as long as he makes it to the start. “He’s a tough guy,” he said. “I hope everything comes together for him and we get him to Philly in one piece.”


An Untimely Hiatus

In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington will follow several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. Meghan Ridgley of Reston, Va., planned to run the Philadelphia Marathon, but has been forced to take the season off. Read the first article about Meghan Ridgley here and the second here.

Meghan Ridgley lives vicariously through the runners she coaches until she can, herself, run again. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D. Whit Photography
Meghan Ridgley lives vicariously through the runners she coaches until she can, herself, run again. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D. Whit Photography

Meghan Ridgley has a lot more time on her hands now that she’s out with a stress fracture and a torn labrum.  Still immersed in running through her work at the Potomac River Runners store and as a coach, she insists that she’s ok being around people who are still able to get out and go running.  It was actually harder when her ankle was injured because she technically could still run.

“It’s a little hard, but it’s easier to watch people run this time because if I try to run my leg will stop and I will literally fall on my face, so the decision is kind of made for me,” Ridgley said.  Instead of wishing she could run, she gets a little secondhand joy from those who can. “I just try to live vicariously through my customers and the people I train.  A lot of people are doing the Army Ten-Miler and Marine Corps, I’ll absolutely be cheering them on and that’s gonna be the best,” she said.

Ridgley’s insisting on keeping her outlook positive by focusing on the side benefits of her setback.  For the runners she coaches “it’s an opportunity to show people that injuries happen, and that you have to let them heal.  Especially for a new runner, they get that injury and they think their life is over,” Ridgely said, joking that the people she coaches will say to themselves: “I don’t want to end up like Meghan so I’ll definitely take some time off.”

Long-time friend and fellow coach Jodi Rakoff has a firsthand insight into how Ridgely is dealing with being sidelined, because both happen to be convalescing from injuries.  They support each other by catching up on the couch instead of running together.  Ridgely has been there for her and is “definitely taking it in stride even though not exercising is really, really hard,” Rakoff said.  She sees her friend Ridgely channel the energy she isn’t using for training to support the runners she coaches and use her injury as a teaching tool.

While Ridgely definitely has let close friends in when she’s feeling the loss of something that she loves and that has always been a central aspect of her life, she’s relieved that overall, “people have commented at how upbeat and enthusiastic I am.”

Ridgely hasn’t gone this long without running since she started running.  Even when she was pregnant, even when she took time off from racing, even when she injured her foot.  “This is the least amount of physical activity I’ve had.  It’s difficult to deal with.  I didn’t realize how much of my day involved movement.  Fortunately I have a physical job,” Ridgely said.  But gone are the daily routines of quick core sets, triceps dips, foam rolls, and pushups in between tasks, tricks the busy mom has honed to keep herself at peak fitness while still doing everything else.

In the place of the time she spent training, she’s sleeping in, and getting to spend more time with daughter Miranda who’s starting third grade this year.  She’s cooking more, and has time to do things like drop a plate of cookies off for a friend who’s had surgery.

The extra time with her daughter is definitely the central focus of her decision to look on the bright side.  With back to school and a birthday party to prepare for, they’ve been busy together.  Miranda reminds Ridgely to wear her brace whenever she has to leave the house and asks about the pain.

As far as recovery and racing goes, Ridgely is playing the waiting game.  She’s due soon for her six week check-in with the surgeon, where an assessment of the torn labrum and stress fracture will decide what her running future holds.  “Because the stress fracture doesn’t feel remotely healed, in my non-medical opinion, I feel like I’m not going to run this year,” Ridgely said.  If the labrum requires surgical repair, she’ll have at least 12 weeks of convalescence.

“I’m anxious for the next step, I’m in the holding patter now,” said Ridgely.

Ridgely had already seen a step back from competitive level racing in her future due to an ankle injury she had orthoscopic surgery on and which will require another operation sometime in the next few years.  She is ready to accept that this injury may force her to stop running at the level she’s been at, but isn’t yet taking it as a done deal.

“It’s a different mindset.  I’m in the phase of I may need to reevaluate – I want to just be able to run, if that means I don’t get to run super-fast or super-far again, that’s fine – as a result of this, I’m going to be less disappointed,” Ridgely said.  “But,” she added, “it’s extra rest for my ankle, that could be what I needed as well.”

Rakoff agrees that the rest is good for Ridgley’s ankle, “it looks like an ankle now.  Before we called it the ‘schmankle,’ it was really inflamed,” Rakoff said.

Hoping that your current injury is good for your previous one is the epitome of looking on the bright side.  Ridgely is taking the determination she’s used in her training to cultivate her attitude of looking for the good in a situation she didn’t choose.  She doesn’t seem to be forcing it at all, rather she gives the impression that whatever comes her way, she’s going to do it the best she can.  Even being injured.

Once she’s healed up, she’s planning on a fall marathon in 2016.   She figures she’ll take it easy over the winter and then try out some summer races to see where she stands.  Without hesitation, when asked about Ridgely’s prospects, her friend and training partner replies “I think she’s gonna crush it 2016.  I think she’ll use this to fuel the flame for next year,” Rakoff said.


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